Thursday, October 29, 2009

There's No Goodbye - October Prelude

Welcome to my entry for Petit Fours and Hot Tamales October Treasure Hunt! I feel honored to have been assigned Halloween. The story that follows is a pre-quel to my current work in progress, There's No Goodbye. It's about a magical florist who must save the life of a doomed soul and it begins on Christmas Eve one year from the story you are about to read. Enjoy and I'd love to read your comments as I'm always looking for feedback!

The bottle of Jameson picked a bad moment to bang against the plastic container in the bottom of Marchand’s knapsack. She stopped and ducked into the doorway of a mausoleum, her fingers deftly wedging the whiskey bottle into place again. She crouched lower as a flashlight played out in a faint arc in the Jewish section, illuminating the dull red of shedding leaves. For October the night was slightly warm, but Marchand wore a black sweater to blend into the shadows and was thankful for the warmth against the chill she felt coming from inside her body. The guard patrolled in a pattern, allowing Marchand a slim belief that she’d complete her mission before he caught her, but not if the bottle that had cost her a day’s tips gave her away. Atlanta was not New Orleans; she couldn’t pay a guard to look the other way for a bridal ancestor ritual.

Marchand timed her advance through Oakland with the clacking of the Marta trains running every thirteen minutes along the northwest perimeter of the cemetery. She knew exactly how many steps it would take from each stopping point to get her across the original six acres and onto the back side of Oakland where the McCarty plot faced the old Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill. This deliberateness, the precision of her plans, had not come as easily to Marchand as she would have wished. But a skill acquired in counter to the natural order of her personality had given her spells a resonance that increased their potency.

Brick walkways, humped and misshapen by a century of rain, were laid out in a tidy grid. Moving quickly, she turned left at the juncture of four paths. At the highest point in the cemetery the Austell plot rose up in a solid brown mass; huge blocks forming the base with Gothic arches and spires rising up into the sky. Marchand crouched against the iron gate and waited; cold pinpricks rose up on her back from the metal pressing through her sweater. From this vantage point she could see the lights from the taqueria just across Memorial Drive and the slight wind carried the heavy scent of cooking oil. In the thirteen minutes she waited the sound of cars traveling down I-20 rose in a distant swell before the trains drowned them out again. Oakland had once stood out in the country, but the thick brick walls rimming in the forty-five acres now provided a bulwark against urban encroachment instead of errant cattle. Inside the cemetery the Victorian world, with its heavy symbology and efflorescence of ritual mourning and devotion, held its power in spite of the industrial complexes and light pollution pushing in on all sides.

Marchand dashed from her spot at the sound of the approaching train and headed down the final path to her destination. The contents of her knapsack remained silent and complicit.


The McCarty’s final resting place was a few plots away from the northern boundary of Oakland Cemetery and fell under the shadow of a massive column dedicated to Governor Joseph Brown. Topping the column was the Archangel Gabriel himself, trumpet raised to his lips, wings outstretched, ready for all eternity to blow in the apocalypse. In twelve hours, Marchand would be a McCarty, which seemed apocalyptical enough. She thought of Gabriel giving the news to Mary of her favor with God, answering Mary’s wavering voice, her questions.

Then Mary said to the angel, How shall this be, since I do not know a man?

And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come on you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

For every penance Marchand could think of, the idea of entering into a barren marriage seemed too great a crime. She made the sign of the cross in the air. If Mary could make it work, she could as well.

Marchard stepped up onto the marble carriage step leading to the plot. She’d mentally rehearsed the ritual, making adjustments to suit graves that were in the ground instead of raised as they were back home. The ritual she was going to perform was as old as time, a remnant from an age of magic few could still claim. A pull of power flowed up into her sternum. She could feel Eulalie’s fingertips radiating circles out onto her temples.

Eulalie. The missing of Eulalie sliced through her. In her childhood Marchand often listened at Eulalie’s private office door as she advised her clients. She’d delved through cracks and around columns until she knew the instructions as well as anyone living, but never did she think she’d be the one practicing the rite herself. Or that she would be practicing it without Eulalie to advise her.

Marchand Boniquet had been born to be lonely. Marriage was not in her birth chart. Eulalie had calculated a new chart every year, hoping to find her own mathematical error, but the stars had never been aligned. Marchand could only imagine that her grandmother, powerful as she was, re-arranged them herself once she ascended.

God, as usual, had the last laugh at the meddling of a cranky old woman. Her marriage was a ritual incited to produce nothing so much as an illusion. Were it not for a good cause, she’d worry that the hand of God would smite her on the spot.

Sham or not, however, Marchand did not cut corners when it came to ritual. She knelt in the exact middle of the family plot, brushing aside leaves fallen from a crepe myrtle to reveal the bare ground, then flipped open the lid of her knapsack. She slipped out the ancient linen cloth, the lace edging nearly yellow, placing it on the ground with care. Rows of initials embroidered in white on white ran down each side and, with fingers shaking in memory, she touched Eulalie’s flourished E and P. The cloth belonged to the Boniquet family and her mother’s initials were there, but Marchand did not trace them. Her father was a typical Boniquet male, having turned her mother to disenchantment and misery in their short lives. Her own initials would be added at the next new moon, but tonight only the fluorescent lights from the Marta station lit up the cloth.

The eggplant she pulled from the sack was without flaw, skin deepest purple and shiny as it nestled onto the middle of the cloth. The eggplant, meant to represent her own uterus, made Marchand gag as she placed it on the cloth. The Boniquet family was meant to die out with her. She pulled out the plastic container and removed the four objects nestled in paper. Orienting herself for true north, Marchand pulled out the sixteen-penny nail and held it in the palm of her hand for a moment to feel the weight of the metal before plunging it into the eggplant with the head pointing north. The requirement of earth was the element of metal – something to give strength for the long haul of marriage.

She moved to face south, then removed a long incense taper, hand-made from a recipe she carried in her memory having left Eulalie’s spell book behind in New Orleans. Only the possessions that would fit in her duffle and not be subject to theft from the other refugees had come onto the bus with her. With fingers steadied by her faith in her magic, she struck a match against a grave marker and lit the taper. The small red tip of the incense released a trickle of cedar-scented smoke; the line running straight and true for four inches before it broke into wispy patterns. Fire. Engine of passion. She stared into the burning incense. Her passion would play out in her work.

West came next and to invoke water she’d chosen the small pink sea shell she’d carried with her from home, remnant of a trip to Gulf Shores with Eulalie. The shell curled around on itself forming a small maze pointing up into the sky. She’d glued it to a small twig and the wood went into the eggplant with some force; anchoring her wishes for her married life to flow and ebb as the tide.

The last object required the greatest care, both in creation and in placement. East was the domain of air, and air was the primal life force. In six months, perhaps less, she would be a widow. As she held her offering to air up against the dark sky, Marchand felt as if she were back home, on Canal Street, close enough to water to feel the land sway. Affixed to a long florist’s pin was a bright yellow butterfly she’d managed to catch in the yard, out of place against the dying beds of autumn. Eulalie, always firm in her rules, had not allowed her clients to substitute silk butterflies, “Don’t you think God can recognize one of his own? Marriage will require sacrifice, and often it’s beauty that gets tossed along the way.” She pushed the pin into the eggplant, the tip of the needle easily piercing the shiny flesh. She rocked back on her heels and stared at her creation.

Four Objects. Four Elements. Four Directions.

The divine number, twelve, was met. She had two last things to do to complete her work. She grabbed the bottle of whiskey out of the bottom of the knapsack, quickly cutting through the seal and twisting off the top. She walked the entire perimeter of the plot, pouring the liquid in a steady stream, being careful to use exactly enough to cover every inch of the outline of the entire plot. At the very back, where the family crypt was sealed firmly shut, she poured the remainder of the bottle. She then repeated the entire process with a quart of goat’s milk. When both containers were empty at her feet, Marchand dropped to her knees at the door of the crypt and bowed her head.

God, Goddess, Everything That Is, I ask that you grant me a fruitful and happy marriage. I join this family with honor, bearing whatever talents and gifts you have given me, and ask only that I be accepted and allowed to share them.

She waited, for what Marchand was not sure. In her experience no great crack of thunder would come, no ready acknowledgement that the universe had heard her. Whatever God, Goddess, Everything had in store for her was a mystery. When her knees could not bear her weight any longer and the sound of the Marta train rattled down the tracks, Marchand rose, placed the eggplant with its adornments in the door of the crypt, carefully folded up with earth-dampened cloth, and then tucked it back into her knapsack. She left the whiskey bottle and the milk carton at the base of Gabriel’s column.

May you be appeased for a time.


A church pew hard and uncomfortable under her, the back of her calves rubbing against the cold leather of the kneeling board tucked under the pew, the air rent by loud blasts from a trumpet. The trumpeter materializes – his cheeks puffing and the sound hanging in the air like ribbons from a pennant, his black face shinning with sweat from the effort of his notes. Her hands clasped in her lap, she hears the notes, understands the call is to something evil, she looses her fingers, begins to draw the protective sigil in the air. Spell unfinished, her right hand no longer has fingers as it rises up to the call of the trumpet, the back of her hand grows scaly, revulsion rises up in her throat, her fingers web together, black eyes open where her knuckles should be, the notes crest, slow, her arms begin to move, syncopated, beyond her control. Her arm turns, a small forked tongue flickers out, testing the air, the black eyes do not blink. The trumpet grows softer, enticing, the man blowing seductively, his eyes closed. Ridges of new bone rise out of the sides of the flesh that used to be her hand as the hooded cobra at the end of her arm stares into her face . . .

Violent shudders wracked Marchand as she struggled to rise to the surface of the living world. Her room was still dark, the only sounds her breath and the dripping leaves outside. Shadowed shapes rimmed her bed, square and resolute as the mausoleums she’d slouched amongst the previous night.

Only a dream. Only a dream.

Under the sheets Marchand could feel the fingers of her right hand as they flexed and moved. She pulled her hands out from the covers, holding them up to her face and turning them around to view every familiar line and wrinkle. Her fingers worked in unison, reflexively finishing the protective sign she had failed to make in her dream.

The waking world moved into her head, sense returning, the dream slipping away. A horror to worry over as time allowed.

Today she was a bride.

Craig and Russell had seen to every detail, but Marchand still had to finish packing her belongings and get ready.

She pushed herself out of bed, climbing around the boxes lining every spare inch of space in her room, and nearly ran to make coffee strong enough to get her through the day.

Marchand debated with herself, alone in the bride’s room, the hovering church lady having been sent on an errand of little importance. The church lady was a fan of brides and seemed rather confused at her lack of attendants and even greater lack of attention to the details.

No civil service for her, Craig needed their wedding to be real and that meant church, dress, flowers, honored guests. She could only imagine what her side of the church must look like. At least the bar where she’d cocktailed was closed this early in the day, perhaps she’d have a minor contingent of drunks to stand up for her.

Her veil was fine lace and mellowed to a lovely color the shade of an expensive taper candle. Russell had produced both the dress and the veil, borrowed from one relative or another. Begged or bought, they suited her slim frame and dark hair and eyes. The veil helped to disguise the fact that she had the hair of a Marine, cropped as it was into close waves against her scalp. The spell she’d put upon herself, appearing indistinct to anyone who looked at her for more than a second, seemed ill-suited to a bride. False as she was in this undertaking, she didn’t want their guests to find it odd when they could not describe Craig’s mysterious new wife. She could break the spell, but the dream of the cobra had haunted her entire day, making her want to disappear even further into the veil.

The soft knock at the door gave her no time to whisper the words and make the signs, giving the decision entirely to the Goddess. Hidden she’d remain, her features fuzzy, her smile bland.

“Come in,” she called out, trying to at least inject a small amount of cheer into her voice.

The head peering around the edge of the door was gray with curls tightly styled into rows against the dainty skull. “May I come in dear? I’d like to look at you before you walk down the aisle.”

“Of course, Mrs. McCarty, please come in.” Marchand backed away from the mirror and tried to settle a smile on her face. How such a diminutive woman had produced a bear of a man like Craig, Marchand could not comprehend. Yet, small as she was, Criag’s mother was a fixed chamber, controlling the rise and fall of her family as a lock controls tidal water.

“You look lovely, Marchand. It’s a shame, though, that my dress did not suit, it would have looked beautiful on you.” Mrs. McCarty fixed her blue eyes on Marchand, trying to measure her for flow and ebb, but the spell held and the old woman was driven to look elsewhere in the room, her brows coming together in confusion.

“It’s rather too bad I have seven inches in height, your dress was indeed lovely and I would have felt beautiful in it.” She had no interest in antagonizing her soon to be mother-in-law. Marchand knew what Mrs. McCarty did not. Her son had mere months before he slipped away from her. Russell had shot Craig up with enough steroids to bulk up two ninety-pound weaklings just to get him through the ceremony.

“Well, dear, dress or not, I’m so glad Craig is finally getting married.” She smiled, the relief tipping the corners of her mouth into more of a smile than the worry lines edging her face would allow for. “I always thought he’d find the right girl, but I just never imagined he’d make it to a sight past fifty.”

Marchand felt an uncharacteristic tenderness she had thought gone with Eulalie. Mrs. McCarty would never need to know the truth about her son. She’d doubted Craig’s plan, doubted the fact that his mother did not at least guess the truth about Craig and Russell, but he’d been right. She was without the first clue.

“Well, he’s found the right girl, now, Mrs. McCarty. I’ll try to make him very happy.” For the time he has left, I’ll be the perfectly complicit bride.

“Thank you Marchand, I’m sure you will. It all seems rather sudden and I’m still trying to get used to the idea, of course. I just haven’t heard of such fast weddings when there wasn’t a little, um, situation to be covered up. You know what I mean, dear?”

Underneath her bouquet, Marchand’s hands made the sign for tact. “If you’re asking me if I’m pregnant, Mrs. McCarty, the answer is no.”

“Well, alright then. Goodness knows I’m too old for grandchildren, why Craig has a nephew who is older than you are!”

Mrs. McCarty stayed for a moment longer, then rushed away in a small wake as the church lady returned to announce the beginning of the ceremony. Marchand gripped her bouquet with her right hand, relieved to find her fingers had not been replaced with scales.


The pen in her hand felt too smooth, the metal cool, the barrel hard. Craig had handed it to her, his smile faint and his own hand trembling uncontrollably. He and Russell had chosen a morning wedding, followed by a lovely brunch at their restaurant, knowing that Craig would not make it through a longer day. With the festivities over and the day drawing to a close the toll was beginning to show, on all of them.

“Marchand, this is where you sign.” Craig pointed, his thick index finger nearly obscuring the line where she needed to sign. When she continued to hesitate, he reached out and tipped up her chin, his eyes searching her face. Russell had trimmed Craig’s beard into a semblance of order and, combined with his flowing hair, he looked like Walt Whitman. He smiled at her, nodding his head. “I know. It’s hard. You are not signing my death warrant. It’s a living will and a Do Not Resuscitate, the warrant was issued long ago.”

A single tear dropped from her eye and fell onto the paper. Marchand could not say she’d never felt more alone, that feeling being reserved for the moment when Eulalie’s hand had slipped from hers and she’d clawed to grasp her grandmother back from Katrina’s flood waters, but the sign of death was already on Craig. A black fuzzy outline like the wing of a crow. “I’m okay. I’ll sign it.”

The lawyer who had come with papers, a long time friend of Russell and Craig, quickly affixed the notary stamp as if Marchand might renege and snatch the documents back from him. He was the type of gay man who saw women as breeders and therefore beneath his interest. His frown indicated his hearty disapproval of the whole plan.

As if her thoughts had given rise to his voice, the lawyer turned to Russell, slumped and spent in an arm chair next to the front window, and said, “I suppose now we sign over assets to her?”

Russell looked up from his study of the ruby leaves dropping every few minutes from the dogwood tree in the front yard. “Yes, John, we’ve already gone over this. Please have Marchand sign the papers for ownership of the flower shop. Lord knows, she deserves that at the very least for putting up with our little charade.”

Marchand could feel Craig bristle, the fight rising up in him and then hissing out as if he’d been a punctured tire. His voice when he spoke was deep and filled with unshed tears. “I’m sorry, Russell, this is the only way. I love you, and I hate that I’m leaving you, but it’s too late to change.”

Russell’s skin, the color of a weak café au lait, clearly showed the two spots of pink that rose up in his cheeks. “I know. You can’t tell your mother after all these years that we share more than a restaurant and I can’t risk her trying to keep you alive. It’s impossible.” He looked away from them, back out into the gathering darkness, “And I am thankful, Marchand.”

“I know, Russell.” She turned back to the lawyer, taking the papers he held out and placing them flat on the table. With fast strokes she affixed her name, sealing all of their fates and ensuring a future for herself where she swore her magic would only be used to heal the kind of heartache that pulsed through the room like a flood of polluted water.

Contest Question: Oakland Cemetery is located in the heart of Atlanta and is open daily for contemplative walks. It's a beautiful place. In my story the events of Hurricane Kartina are bookended with the tornado that ripped through Oakland in March of 2008.

While Marchand is in Oakland she uses a vegetable as part of an ancestor ritual. What vegetable does she use?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Poetry - The Night We Danced Sequence

I. The Night We Danced at the Promenade

In the blue-walled ballroom of the Hotel Don Leon
the boot-black sky served in slices at the open doors
and citrus blossoms hanging thick as seed pearls
on the specimen trees espaliered on the courtyard walls
like men before a firing squad,
we were not yet lovers.

Forehead to cheek, we kept the distance demanded of our charges.
Fevered teenage eyes watching us, suspicious of our dancing grace,
their own gyrations rumbling the parquet loose from its glue,
shaking the chandelier in the ballroom below, raining
small bits of plaster onto wedding plates.

This is the only acceptable public embrace
we've jotted into our conduct codes
as our longing unfurls among the crepe-paper roses
and silver-sprayed ivy.

The dance ends and our bodies part, hands lingering.
Out on the balcony the pierced-tin sky tilts and spins like a shuttlecock.
The dry air browns the orchids in my corsage
as the petals drape their arms around the curled ribbon.

Notes: This is the first in a series of poems done as a cycle. I'll put them up over the next few days. The cycle has six poems in it - each playing with a poetric tradition of praise and longing, whether in form or in device used. The arc of the cycle is from the inception of an affair through to the distant future. The device in use is sound - lots of "o" and "a" and other sounds that make for a sigh. Prom is something most everyone remembers - fondly or not - but it's not just the teenagers who get taken with Prom. Most teachers are required to chaperone at least one dance per year and in my time as a teacher I learned that the faculty is every bit as much under the sway of hormones as the students are. High school is a stew of longing. I've been working on this cycle for years and haven't really ever done much with it. Why tonight? Because it's been a horrible day - probably the worst in a series of bad days, and what the hell - why not.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mind the Swale

Swale: A drainage swale is a shaped and sloped depression in the soil surface used to convey runoff to a desired location. (like the neighbor directly behind you!)

from the California Stormwater BMP Handbook

It’s been raining in Atlanta, as you might have heard. Where I come from in California 12 inches in an entire year is considered a really good, wet, year. 12 inches in one flippen day is astonishing and that’s what we’ve been dealing with. I used to be in love with rain. Now I‘d like a trial separation.

Most builders with any sense at all design a building that is low-lying to have a swale around one side or the other. This is because when your foundation sits on the ground without a crawl space you can be flooded unless you tell the water where to go. I know about these things because I am

A) the step-daughter of a builder and

B) Remember all those crazy occupations I’ve had!

So, I knew we had a nice little swale going around our outbuilding, however, the past few years we’ve been in a drought and we’ve been crazy people due to – life. So my nice little swale designed by some builder 100 years ago filled with rocks, vines, dirt, dog poop. And I never even noticed.

Luckily, my house sits way up high on a nice tall foundation. Not so luckily, my studio is in an outbuilding that sits plumb on the ground with a concrete foundation. You see the problem?

One Day+12 inches of rain+unminded swale+on slab building = FLOODED OUT.

As I was out in the pounding rain, soaking wet, shovel in hand digging out my swale, it occurred to me (yes, in between all the F-this-God-Damn-Rain thoughts) that this swale is a perfect metaphor. If you don’t stop to tell the water where to go – and we all have water in our lives – if you let the swale that can carry the flood away fill with crap– you are going to experience a life filled with muddy and stinky water.

So, I have one question for you: What is your personal swale and are you minding it?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Poetry Monday - Abujerar


First, he had been simply handsome;
his hooked Cahuilla nose sniffing her out
as the bobcat circles the cottontail.
Once she noticed the wads of cash
appear in his long Spanish fingers
she was his.
She already had a baby fathered by a chicken-faced boy
who had played one of Alessandro’s foes the year
she was the beautiful and tragic Ramona.
So what if other girls crossed themselves as he came near.
Dueñamamas whispered in her ear, called him the source
of the Santa Anas. The wicked wind, whipping everyone,
came from his easy laugh.
She could not be swayed, ensnared
as she was by a man
who could find water in the desert
and coax it to bubble among the chaparral and rodents.
She was willing to take him in, with his
bent sticks and rough hands.

It wasn’t until he started divining in the rocky hillsides
that his fists gave her roses that bloomed on her face.
The pink rock of the San Jacinto taunted him with hints
of moisture, but day after day his magic failed
and the farmer cursed him.
She used theatrical make-up
left over from the pageant
and created her own illusions.

The child came during a rainy season
when there had been no work for months.
He sat by the window watching water cascade from the sky
and muttered over a daughter. No one to pass on the male magic
of the Aqua Caliente. He would not hold her up to the sky
and bless her with his name.

When the hard winter cold came
he found work in the orange groves.
The foreman’s truck would pick him up at sundown
and he would leave with her sullen, chicken-faced son.
They worked the smudge pots
until a halo of heat cocooned the trees.
Returning at dawn, oil-soaked,
he would strip off his clothes
and plunge into her. Like the hills,
she would give him no moisture.
Like quartz, he could not care.

Calls for dousing stopped coming.
Wells were dug with machinery. His magic
dried up in his calloused palms. A son
never came.

She became one of the dueñamama and cooed
about the boys who came for her daughter.
The day for the girl’s fifteenth birthday
passed quietly and he did not make money appear
in his long Spanish fingers
for her quinceñera.
The girl soon left with a white boy in a yellow Camaro.
The roses were forever in bloom.
When she had no bones left to be broken
and all the water in her body
had been pulled into his hands
she covered her face with the mask of Ramona
and folded herself back underneath San Jacinto.

About this poem:

It's our 8th or 9th rainy day in Atlanta so I'm picking a poem about water for today. Where I grew up in Southern California is at the edge of several different mountain ranges. The one in this poem is the San Jacinto mountains, which is also the setting for Helen Hunt Jackson's classic story of star-crossed lovers - Ramona and Alessandro. Every year for the Romana Pagent a beautiful girl is picked to play the part of Ramona and I've taken that theme and spun out what the girl's life is like having been a tragic character in her own world. The rich Mission and Native American heritage of Southern California collides frequently and sometimes the result is a very rich and mysterious culture, but most often the collision is more about tragedy and prejudice.

The man in the poem is a diviner. I've always been fascinated by the mysertious property of water. You can read more about divining here: (I love that this site is trying to make diving more "professional")

Thursday, September 03, 2009


What’s the first thing you cut in an economic slump? Yeah, the $200 visits to the stylist. And before somebody freaks out – hair care is expensive in the big city, baby! It’s extra expensive when you want to look “naturally” blond. According to my stylist, Miss Jamie Booth, I am naturally blond – just not that halo kind of blond that makes me look like I could ascend to Heaven strictly on the power of my hair sheen alone.

So, today I got to go visit Miss Jamie for the first time in six months. I may ascend any moment because I am now BLOND. My clothes look better, my make-up looks better, I honestly think I look thinner since I have undergone the re-blondification process.

This visit was my little gift to myself for losing ten pounds – a milestone I am one half pound away from achieving. Go me! I’m blond and thin! Okay, not really. What I am is significantly lighter in the important areas – my hair and my ass.

Miss Jamie and I love our visits. I know I pay her and all, but a girl gets tight with her stylist over time. She’s an Aries as well and I always read our forecast for the month and then update her on what we can expect in the coming days. Today I had to warn her that we should not buy anything expensive or electronic this month. Mercury is retrograde, people. Stay away from the store. Don’t sign a contract. Put the expensive shoes back on the rack. We also talk mothering because we have sons who are both Cancers. See, Miss Jamie and I are leading parallel lives. Only her hair looks good on a more consistent basis. Maybe we’re really triplets with Johnny Depp!

She gave me a great tip about mascara today. I’ll try to remember what it was, but I may have to call her and ask again. I was sleepy after baking in the dryer with my head covered in foil.
Why am I blogging about this? Because getting my hair done made me feel fantastic today and I think anyone who is trying to lose weight ought to do the things that make them feel fantastic.
What makes you feel fantastic?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Poetry Monday - August in Wildwood Canyon

The mountains around my hometown are on fire. Again. In October of 2003 my dad's house up in the San Bernardino mountains burned to the ground. My sister and I watched it happening live from our houses in Atlanta on CNN. We recognized it from the street sign and the windows. The pictures on the right are of the house taken from CNN. Fire is horrible. The path is unpredictable and the destruction immense.
While I miss mountains and canyons, I don't miss fire (although I've chosen to live in a city renown for burning down over and over again, go figure, probably my Aries nature to always be close to the flame).
I wrote this poem about me and my sister as teenagers dealing with a sudden wild fire in the middle of the day while we were home alone. When you grow up in a canyon you live with the knowledge that a wild fire or an earthquake could strike at any moment. In the back of your head you have lists of what to grab because the fires move so fast through the dry chaparral that you often have to evacuate very quickly. I have a hard time doing this poem at readings because the emotions of that day rise to the surface very quickly, like they are this morning as I'm scanning the web looking for news about Oak Glen and Yucaipa. I'm praying for everyone in my hometown this morning. (I'm not, however, lighting any candles)

August in Wildwood Canyon

A hawk riding the hot wind passes us
as we sit eating burritos at the kitchen table.

We do not speak. At sixteen and thirteen we know
only soap operas, suntans, and rivalry. Our silence

is filled with the whine and roar of the discer
stalking the brittle grass on the canyon floor.

I am the first to draw breath at the acrid scent.
Fire. We race to the edge of the deck.

The hillside drops a hundred feet until
orderly iceplant gives way to sage and grass.

Flames race up the power poles. Lines snap
and fly like arrows. The abandoned tractor roves

in circles around the live oaks. Now talking
nonstop, moving quickly, we heap left-overs and jars

onto the kitchen floor and, packing photographs
and films into the refrigerator, we preserve

our childhood, but cannot agree on what goes
in the car. China is too fragile, silver can be replaced.

We race back and forth from house to car,
throw in quilts, yellowed wedding dresses, a box

containing a fall made from our great-grandmother’s
loosely braided hair, our grandfather’s college yearbook,

my box of notes from my best friend, my sister’s softball
glove and uniform because she has a game tomorrow.

All but our mother’s last canvas fits into the trunk.
Planes are filling the air with loads of water and the white

walls of mom's room flicker pink as we grab her jewelry box
and join the line of cars leaving the canyon.

Chunks of ash drift onto mailboxes and fences,
settle in small piles. I need headlights to see my way out.

On a safe plateau we huddle together, watch flames
line the ridges, the smoke shift from white to gray.

At dusk we are allowed back. The wind is changing.
The fire is trapped on a ridge high above the canyon.

My sister and I are quiet again. She refuses to ride
with our mother and sits stubbornly in my car.

The line of cars, longer now that parents are home,
winds back through the naked and smoking hillsides,

around curving roads, charred front yards
and back decks burned black. One home is lost.

Not ours. We ride the hot wind back to nothing
that will ever again safely belong to us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Full nakedness ! All joys are due to thee . . .

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start posting naked pictures of myself on here. That. Would. Be. Bad. This will be an entry about exercise. It’s a leap, I know.

I’m trying to love and accept myself as I am, really. I’m struggling with the idea of that, though, because I don’t much like my body right now. I think liking your body too much when every chart on earth says you are a fatso is not such a healthy self-esteem thing. Personally, I think it’s better to acknowledge that the old bod is not so great anymore than it is to be in denial. Denial is not your friend. I’m on the outs with denial, remember. Denial and I are no longer chatting on the phone every morning and deciding to wear matching outfits.

I was flipping through my stack of diet books (a post for another day) and came across this really interesting quote in a Jorge Cruise book.

Exercise is a form of body praise.

Hmmm. I like that much better than my old form of body praise, which went something like this:

I don’t care if you have rolls and you require lycra and a good bra to get into clothing – damn it, I still love you.

I don’t hate my body, exactly, I’m just in a little tiff with it. I’d like to get back to praising my body, but I need to find another method besides my Frenemy, Denial.

You know what you get when you search for Praise for your Body? You get Donne – To His Mistress Going To Bed – a poem in which Donne is smoothly talking the pants right off some chick who’d rather be having sex in the dark with her linen nightie pulled up a chaste amount. That’s some pretty nice praise in that poem, but it’s sort of meant to result in him getting lucky. I’m sure it worked – what girl doesn’t want to be the subject of a poem? In case you missed this one in English Lit, you can read it here:

So, I also came across the Gâyatrî Mantra in my search. In case you missed your Islamic Mysticism class one day, here it is:

We meditate on the glory of the Creator;
Who has created the Universe;
Who is worthy of Worship;
Who is the embodiment of Knowledge and Light;
Who is the remover of all Sin and Ignorance;
May He enlighten our Intellect.

But that one is about the brain, not the body. So we have the extremes here: Wooo Hooo Go Naked and then Remove Sin and Enlighten Intellect. Sigh. I do love the search engine Google, but sometimes you get the gamut.

So, I think I need a new mantra to praise my body and I just realized how simple it is, really.

To My Legs Before Going To The Gym

Get thee up, thou full-fleshed and lazy limbs;
Work out hard – for that’s what the Creator intends.
Treadmill, stair-stepper or just a long walk,
Off your lazy ass; waste less time on talk.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Poetry Monday - Autumn Migration

Autumn Migration

Throw up your dinner at the break.
Beside all the gawking starlings
in the bathroom, you’re a macaw,
fuchsia stripes and ruby slashes,
but under the stadium lights
you look healthy. Rub Vaseline
on your teeth so your painted lips
slip into smiles. On the field
the minutes march away until
the band cranks up Louie Louie
as the players depart to pray.
and you count into position
one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . .
When you feel the base’s hands grip
your hips, you stop hearing music,
the crowd rumbles away. You bend,
his fingers pinch your waist until
he raises you up in the air
like a falconer. Your feet rest
in his hands for a four count, then
you stick it, right foot in your palm
and left foot gripped hard in his hands.
You squeeze your cheeks until your thigh
becomes a rod of hardened steel
pinch a penny, pinch a penny, pinch a penny
Even from this distance you look
in the eyes of parents, stoners
and old graduates in the bleachers
and see them bound to the earth,
their bulk absolute and leaden.
Out of the corner of your eye
you see the other flyer tossed
like a released homing pigeon.
She comes out of her tuck, touches
her pointed toes, then swan dives down.
Later, she will tell you about
seeing, over the crowd and past
the bleachers, the long line of cars
on University. Eight counts
left, but his hands begin to shake.
One count early you feel him bend
his knees, propelling you airborne.
You twist into a perfect V
and ride down into the cradle.
Pop out of his arms, wave in time
with the waning beats of the song.
Only some have bones light enough to fly.

Notes on Autumn Migration
One of my favorite aspects of being a modern poet is the ability to play with that almighty ruler of poetry - Form. Just as poets in the 18th and 19th century took to and used hymn meter because that was the rhythm they heard in their daily life, modern poets can take whatever beat they want. We're not as constrained by the notion that there is one right way to apply form.

This poem is about cheerleading, of course, but not any cheerleading - the basis is the gravity-defying aspects of doing stunts. Throwing another body into the air - or being the body thrown in the air - requires a certain mental toughness and a deep belief in your partner. It's hubris in a short skirt. The manner in which I tweaked form for this poem is in the line count - each line is 8 beats - which is the count in cheerleading. Every motion is dictated by that magic 8 - so I wanted this poem to fall within that hard and fast rule. When you can get the form and the subject matter to marry so closely - well, that's pretty satisfying. The last line is not 8 counts because the stunt has ended.

Oh, and a little inside tidbit. The cheeks in the poem are butt cheeks. Every flyer is taught the mantra that they repeat in their head - and sometimes outloud - Pinch a penny. They have to squeeze their butt cheeks as if there's a penny in there and their life depends on keeping it in place. In order to defy gravity the flyer has to keep their body within a single plane - if they move any body part out of that plane then the base can't hold them and they fall. Watch ESPN cheer competitions some time and you can catch a few of the flyers mumbling up there in the air.
Pinchapenny pinchapenny pinchapenny.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Poetry Monday

Pacing at 2 am with Telia

The neighbor’s house is nothing but black geometry
as I walk the floors with my infant daughter —
lost in half sleep, in the desire to dream.
She reaches, grasping at my hair,
and anchors herself as a moonflower vine
grows small spikes to find purchase on a wall.

Of all the strange fancies
my grandmother keeps in boxes
what she wants the most is her mother’s hair,
arm-length, chestnut and tightly braided.
A marvel to hold when I was a child.
The trophy none of my friends could top.
I find it on a high shelf in her bedroom,
muslin wrapped, looped with silk lily-of-the-valley,
plastic case clouded, label smeared.
Seventy-five years it has lived with her.
Fierce desire for this one thing
has been triggered by a recurring dream –
she’s sixteen and come home from school
to find her mother on the edge of death
her knee length hair gone by order of the doctor.
That long braid, turned gray by age, sickness,
was buried with her body,
but the switch, culled from a hairbrush
and used to make elaborate coiffures before the sickness,
haunts my grandmother,
makes her reach out to hold
the brittle strands in her trembling fingers.

I'm posting this as my first poem because it's about my grandma. I stopped blogging last year so abruptly because my grandmother fell and hurt herself. She was 94 and the fall she took ended her life after three painful and hard weeks. I just sort of, well, entered a mourning period. So, I thought it fitting to "publish" this one about her as my first foray into getting my writing out in the world.
Because I'm a teacher I have to give some explanatory notes for each poem. Were I giving a reading I would do the same thing for the audience to introduce the poem. Here's the deal with poetry - it's mostly meant to be an interaction between the audience and the poet. It's okay to say what a poem is ABOUT. To me, poems where you have to delve deeply to figure out WTF is going on are just an excuse to not pay for therapy for the poet. Some of what I write is autobiographical and some is fiction - the switch in the poem is real and a pretty cool object when you think about how long ago my great-grandmother died.
The style of this one is a pretty modern construct my favorite professor, David Bottoms, is the master of. The first stanza is an in-the-moment riff, then there is a break, and then the second stanza reveals the meaning and the theme. The two sometimes look like there's a big leap in logic or a breaking of the space-time continuum, but if the poet has done their job the two halves form a circle that reveals something powerful without coming out and saying it or hitting you over the head with it. It's sort of tied to the stream-of-consciousness movement in fiction, but there's a more formal aspect to this technique in poetry.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Who Is This Will and Why Does He Have All the Power?

My family had bacon for dinner last night. Crispy bacon. And scrambled eggs – cooked in bacon grease. My family is skinny, through some miracle, so they can eat things like that once in a while and be totally not as fat as I am. I’m not even going to ask what’s up with that because it’s pointless. Oddly enough – I ate my salad and my Nutrisystem Mac n Cheese and was perfectly and totally happy. I did not even snitch a little corner of crispy bacon. And I was the one frying it!

It occurred to me today while I was huffing it on the stair climber at the gym that the Greeks may have had it right after all with the whole Muse thing. And yogurt – you have to give them that. Muses and yogurt. Brilliant people those Greeks. However, I think the Muses need a refreshening. Kind of like in Europe where the buildings are all 1 million years old and very beautiful and patinaed (see, I was a designer since you have to have a license to use a word like “patina”), but when you go inside everything is very au courant and clean-lined with this Bauhaus sensibility and all these bright colors. So, the Muses need the same kind of treatment.

Although, really, I think the Muse of Erotic Poetry is doing just fine modernizing herself. Anyhoo, I think we need to add a Muse to the list for our modern sensibilities and needs.

I hereby nominate the new Muse – Will.

He’s the only male Muse and he is in charge of inspiring us to not be obese forty-year olds with bad capris and saggy boobs. I’m having a hard time figuring out what Will-the-Muse looks like, however. Is he like Frosty the Snowman with two cherry tomato eyes, a carrot nose, and a jaunty leaf of Bibb lettuce for a hat? Is he a really buff dude who speaks with a slight German accent and says “drop and give me fifty!” every time you call upon him? He might even look like Johnny Depp. If anyone should be a Greek it’s Johnny Depp with his yacht and his island.

All I know is that I have Will-the-Muse to thank for the fact that I happily ate Salad and did not partake of Bacon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Picture is Worth 1200 Calories a Day

It’s such a damn cliché, but pictures reveal so much more than we are willing to see. Take, for instance, my weight loss “before” picture taken by my indulgent friend Stacy just last week. I’m posting it because this is me being brave and trying to move forward without my silly illusions. I know most of you actually know what I look like in person. Sadly, I’m not sure I know what I look like in person anymore.

I am fond of my silly illusions. Like the one I have where what I actually look like I do in this picture to the left - taken my first year of college when I was 19.

See, in my head I still look like I did when I was 30, 19, 17 . . . . In my head I’m still hot, still worth a second look. My after picture? Who is that woman in her silly capris and her raggedy bangs with her saggy boobs? I just simply do not know her.

Which is how you end up needing to lose 48.5 (now down to 44!) pounds. You do not look at pictures of yourself. You simply look in the mirror and magically superimpose your own favorable fantasy over what you see. You cannot do that with a picture.
Did I want to share my before picture with the world? Hell no! I’m doing it so I can stop this nonsense of imagining that I do not actually resemble my current picture. It’s all part of the process of trying to quit the fooling of myself I’ve been doing on every front of my life.
I’m a lumpy mess. And that’s the first really important step to becoming a not-as-lumpy and hot-enough-for-42 kind of a girl. Like the one in my head.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Three Business Suits of Eve

I’m obviously not done exploring the whys and wherefores of my seemingly disjointed professional history. But today, kids, we get to learn what I’m going to do about fixing this whole mess of a life I sent to the landfill in the Herbie Curbie. The picture? Me as a high school teacher and cheerleading coach. Can't believe I left that one off my post yesterday.

I’ve been in a bitter mood all summer. Bitter, nihilistic, hard-bitten, overwhelmed, stretched. You get the picture. I make a great small-business-woman for about six months before I get really peeved that I can’t write because I’m hitting deadlines left and right and pleasing my clients to no end. And, no, I’m not in the skin trade. I please my clients by being a strategic thinker and delivering more than I promise. Which makes me bitter, yada yada. Writing manuals is grinding work. In the end I often know more about my client’s business than they do. Perfect for my tendency to be a know-it-all to begin with.

I read this great article about Johnny Depp at the gym today (hang for a second, you know I’ll bring this point back around home in some crazy way). The article focused on how he manages to detangle himself from his rather deep character portrayals. The answer?

154 foot yacht and a private island.

So, I’m not getting my own private island any time soon. But I can imagine how great it would be to go to the island and just SHED the worry about why one client does not have good exhaust system guidelines and why another refuses to explain the Day Dot system to their franchisees. I could escape the worry I feel when I just know they are missing critical things like how to operate their Ansul System. I could drop out of society and not be there to take the phone call from the client who is still using operational guidelines from five years ago and has to call fired employees to find the originals of their kitchen recipes.

You can see why I’m bitter, right? So, here’s what happens when you inhabit your client's skin and succeed at becoming a successful small business person. You gain 10 pounds in three months.

Which is actually about 1/3 of the weight of the detritus I threw away when I cleaned out the studio. I’d have liked to chuck my big fat ass in that bin.

So, I’m not happy when I’m not writing and I’m fat, even if I am being successful at whatever crazy thing I am putting my hand to this year and I have jeans I like.

That’s my elevator speech.

My problem is that I succeed in whatever I can do, no matter how ill-suited to my own hopes, dreams and talents because I throw my whole entire self into it. I’m Johnny Depp. (as an aside, my Myers-Briggs test on Facebook actually listed me as an ENFJ – and guess what Johnny Depp is! Yup. We’re twins. Except only one of us has a yacht. And an island.)

Here’s where I tie this all in. I have to find a way to be more me and less the me of the moment and the me of the making a buck. In order to do this I have to do the following: Lose the weight I’ve been letting hide the real me, let some of my damn poetry see the light of day, write my own work (which does not have anything to do with the 100 degrees of doom, Day Dots, or spreadsheets detailing labor costs of any kind).

I’m going to admit this at the end because the only people still reading are my friends and hopefully love me. I’m on Nutrisystem. There, I said it. Finished my first week. Lost the first two of 48 pounds. So, I’m going to blog about that. And I’m going to start putting a poem up every Monday. Because if even one person reads my words, even if it’s someone who knows and loves me, well, that makes me a writer now doesn’t it. It makes me ME.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It Don't Matter to Me . . .

It don’t matter to me if you really feel that you need some time to be free, time to go out searching for yourself, hoping to find, time to come to find. It don’t matter to me if you take up with someone who’s better than me, cause your happiness is all I want for you to find. Your piece of mind.

I think Bread was a pussy and completely sublimating his feelings in that song. But I’d kinda like to become schizophrenic for a moment and feel that way about myself instead of my lover. (honey, if you are reading this you may NOT go out and find yourself, please leave that to me, the expert)

I didn’t know this year was going to be transformative when it started. Yet, here it is three quarters gone and things are shifting like a stack of dishes at a tag sale. This summer my old computer died – as in blue-screen-of-death and no –recovery-available-death. My new computer took three weeks to come (and DO NOT tell me to get a Mac – not an option for oh so many reasons). While I waited and fretted and wandered aimlessly through my work days on borrowed computers, I decided to do a “quick” remodel of my studio.

I wish I had pictures. Let’s just say my favorite carpenter, Kevy Duty, ended up here more days than he’d planned. He relies on people like me who have “ideas” and practice the Whim Method of project planning. In order to put in new cabinets and build a spot for a new sewing table I had to clear some things out. An entire Herbie Curbie of things. An emotional landscape that was some kind of treasure map to my true self I have not yet pieced together and daily now struggle with. Thanks a lot Kevy Duty!

I’ve lived many lifetimes already. Just a few of the occupations I’ve had:

  • Construction Office Manager
  • High School English Teacher
  • MFA Student/Research Assistant
  • College English Teacher
  • Literary Magazine Editor
  • Interior Designer
  • Technical Writer
  • Business Owner
  • Poet (published, no less)
  • Writer

You get the idea. And it’s not like any of those were short stints. The least amount of time I spent doing anything is a tie at the three years I was an office manager and edited a literary magazine.

In my little narrow studio were the remnants and dregs of all those lives. I threw things away with abandon. What am I ever going to do with Construction Detailing and Dimensions for Designers? I do not need teacher instruction manuals on assertive discipline – anyone who has seen me quell children with just a look knows I no longer need a how-to guide. I had kept every poem ever workshopped in my MFA program – just in case anyone I was in the program with became the next Sylvia Plath. I could just see some big university get all excited over my 9 million drafts of the really terrible early poems of So and So. Out they went. Along with my hand-drawn electrical plans for houses that are now totally out of warranty they were built so many years ago. I threw out catalogs for very hard to find architectural elements. I threw out my film-processing equipment from my minor in Photography. I pitched the beat-up parrot that used to hang in my very first classroom at Redlands High School in California. Out went all the research files for the website I did about the impact of the Civil War on the poetry of Emily Dickinson (far more interesting than it sounds!) I threw away the twenty copies of the lit mag I'd hoarded so I could prove I actually was an editor.

And somehow all that throwing away of the bits and pieces of who I have been set off a chain reaction in my psyche. I’ve been all these really concrete occupations – and experienced success in each of them to some extent.

But then I moved on.

Every job I quit, every career that became too much for me to handle, I left under the idea that I needed more time for writing. Yet, here I am today at the age of 42 with this really strange history of jobs and I’m not much closer to being published than I was ten years ago. I have managed to fail so far at the one thing I’ve really wanted to do all along.

How’s that for a mind-bender.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Apologies to Carl Jung for stealing his title. I am in a spell of dryness and trying to discover how to come out of the desert. This piece will perambulate, but I promise to eventually go ahead and define the boundaries of my inspection.

I’ve had words my whole life. As a baby I used to sit in the back of the car and recite every word I knew. I put myself to sleep with words. I loved how they rolled off my tongue and made beautiful patterns against the roof of my mouth. I loved how saying them into the air could cause a reaction from my mother and father - especially when I named my rocking horse a dreadful word that rhymes with Buck, and no one - not even my beloved grandmother - could dissuade me. As I grew older I began to see words as story – how words could swirl around and become a circuit – the same way electricity forms a perfect arc. I would spend hours preparing scripts for my friends to use with our Barbies as we acted out my stories, circling the theme – will Ken bring home the right car? Can Barbie ever have children of her own? Will Skipper be able to save her sick pony? - We tried out alternate stories, different arcs, until we discovered what felt like the happiest ending.

Words were lush – the way they could just fall into my mouth, ripe and velvety. I knew more words than anyone I knew. I read the dictionary for the sheer joy of discovering a word that was just perfect. Perambulate, for instance, which rose just now into my fingers and was perfect – better than explore, better than walk, better than circle. Do I ever use a word like perambulate in every day conversation? No. But there it was, shimmering in a pool – ready to rise up I discovered Jung in college and became instantly devoted to his archetypes. Mostly because I could understand them. Horses pounding hooves next to a castle – the flight or fight animation of the night mare. The giant that lives next to the bridge – fear of crossing into newness. His was a landscape that made sense to me. Words are the manifestation of image, after all. And image is the child of myth and symbol. I could cross into French Deconstructionism and ponder if a table would really be a table if we couldn’t call it that, but I never much liked unbundling words from objects.

In Jung I discovered an image that abides with me always. Creativity is a giant river and it runs cool, deep and ever-replenishing through our subconscious, dumping finally into a lake where we can plumb the depths and, like pirates, hide our ideas until we need them. We have only to learn to make a bucket. To pull up what we want from the cool water of creative thought. What I’ve pulled up are buckets mostly filled with words, but I’ve also pulled up houses, dresses, the perfect paint color, children, a piece of mosaic, and the random new way of doing something.

But during this tumultuous time in life I have been discarding my bucket more than I carry it. The river has receded for me and I’ve been in fear that shortly I’ll need to craft a divining rod to ever find it again. For the past six months I have not been able to find time to write. The words are drying pebbles – muted and plain in the air; the river slows to a trickle. The lake it feeds into has sandy edges now and the reeds poke up into the air from the shallowing middle.

The hard thing is that I never stop hearing the water, even as I have had to turn my attention to other things, it’s still there, with all the annoyance of a dripping faucet and the companionable guilt of waste.

But then just last week I was walking on a track at Agnes Scott College while my kids were in camp. Agnes Scott is a women’s college. Lush and manicured – always an inducement to finding water. I walked hard, in despair, certain that I wouldn’t ever again have time for the words, when beneath my feet I felt it. Water. Six months is a long time to be parched, a long time to not be able to use words, an eternity of desperate thirst.

I came home that day and did something I hate to do. I put my children in front of the television and locked myself in my room. I spread out the next four months before me on my bed and I hunted for space where I could wade; space where I could swim; space where I could float. I found those spaces – I found where water could sweep in around the boundaries and edges of a life that is too full of obligation. Looking at all those squares now colored blue I remembered something an old plumber once told me:

Water will always find a way to run.